Exclusive Interview: Arne Friedrich

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR  ''Hi Arne, thanks for speaking to me at TSF, I know that as Sporting Director of Hertha BSC this is your busy season!  Let's get to it, tell me about the remit and the challenges of such a role''.

AF  ''Currently there is no time for feelings because I have a lot on my plate and as in every job, there are good and bad times. I enjoy my role because I am a people person and I like to deal with people in general.  In my role I think it is very important to lead people and this is my passion.  At the moment we are in a tough position. It was a challenge for me to take over after my predecessor Michael Preetz was let go. The team was also in a difficult situation, in the table. 

The biggest challenge right now is to find a balance between the sporting situation and finding time for the strategic process which will help define the philosophy and what is is we want to achieve in the next five years. It is not easy because there has been a lot of shifts and changes within the organization.  We have had multiple coaches and it is a challenging position to be in, but I really enjoy it because I can plan, work and I can build up a strategy for the next couple of years''.

JR  ''I guess you have a slight advantage in the fact that Hertha is your second home.  You made over 200 appearances for the club so you're used to the ups and downs?

AF '' Lets start with the highlights. In 2004 I became captain of this wonderful club, a posistion I held until I left in 2010. It was certainly something that shaped me personally. To take on such an important role at a young age was an honor and a challenge at the same time. I think another exciting time was in the 2008/2009 season when we almost became Bundesliga champions under a fantastic coach in Lucien Favre.  Nobody expected us to win the title at that time so it was very exciting although it ended in an unfortunate manner where we finished 5th in the Bundesliga. 

A massive negative of my time at the club as a player was when we got relegated the following season even though we had a good team  We did not expect to get relegated at all so it was very complicated to find the switch in order to change things where the results come.  Our current squad is not really built up to fight against relegation so you need to find the switch in your head.  As a club we fight well against relegation and this is what we were not able to accomplish back then when we got relegated in 2010.  

That was by far my toughest time at the club as a player.  As you can imagine I was playing for my country and I was the club captain.  There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders and often I was the first to blame. It was ok for me though because I am a person who likes to take responsibilities. After that season the 2010 World Cup took place in South Africa that summer.  I played a very good tournament and I learned a lot through my years as a player at Hertha BSC.  One thing I learned in life is to embrace setbacks. In those moments you learn the most. What I do in those moments is to switch my mindset from, “Why does it happen to me”, to "What is this situation teaching me".  In general I really appreciated the highs and lows throughout my time at the club''

JR ''You mention playing for Germany.  Playing in two World Cups and two European Championships is more than most players ever dream of.  What are your highlights and memories of playing international football?''

AF  ''My time with the German national team was the most exciting during my playing career. When I was able to lead my team on the pitch as captain of Germany for the first time in Thailand I was filled with a lot of honour.  Having the captain's armband around your arm and singing the national anthem is something that you always dream of.  Representing your country not just as a player but also as a captain... this is a duty and something that I really valued a lot.  It was such a special time and a real honour.

The highlight at international level was every big tournament that I played in but the 2006 World Cup in particular in our own country was special. Nobody really thought that we would end up in the semifinals and also in 3rd position in the tournament.  We played some of the games in my hometown of Berlin and this was also a big learning process for me because when we played our first game there were 1 billion people around the world watching, and we won 4-2 against Costa Rica. I was targeted for both goals that we conceded having made the mistake. But this helped me so much to learn to grow because I would say that I have never felt more pressure after a game like that, when the whole spotlight is on you in a negative way. 

But as I mentioned earlier I embrace setbacks. I wanted to know what I can get out of this situation afterwards, and I was able to do that through the help of fantastic people in my life. I was able to grow as a person and also as a player and that helped me in the next World Cup in 2010.  At this tournament I was able to enjoy the whole World Cup.  When you play in your first World Cup there is a lot of pressure and expectation and you think about this constantly. You think "how can I not lose" rather than thinking "how can I win and enjoy the game".  I was able to enjoy my second World Cup more because I learned so many lessons along the way.  Therefore, playing for my country in four major tournaments, in two World Cups and two European Championships, were definitely the highlights of my career''

JR  ''Playing in four major tournaments means you will have played with the cream of German football for an entire generation.  Who stands out?"

AF  ''There are a handful of players but I would like to mention a player in every position.  When it comes to goalkeepers I played with Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann but for me Manuel Neuer was and still is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and has been for such a long time. He is also humble and such a great guy and he kind of recreated the style of play for a goalkeeper. 

In defence it is Philipp Lahm.  He was the perfect full back for me. His biggest strengths besides his technical skills was his mental ability, to be so strong he was one of the most consistent players I have ever played with and I think in 99 percent of his games he played world class.  In the other one percent he was international class.  He was just tremendous.  

Toni Kroos is my top midfielder who is currently at Real Madrid.  He is also a great person off the pitch in the fact that he does a lot of charity work and he has won the Champions League four times with different teams. He is so smooth with the ball and has great technical skills being so skillful. He also never misplaces a pass.

When we talk about strikers it is Miroslav Klose.  When you look at his goal statistics, especially at the World Cups, it just speaks for itself.  He was always fighting very hard, he had fantastic heading ability and he was so strong in front of goal in order to score the goals.  And again, he is a really humble character.  He was one of the players who did not shout, he was a peaceful player and is such a great person who is always humble which is a quality I really like''.

JR  ''Philip Lahm won me a lot of money when he scored the first goal at the 2006 World Cup!  As a fellow defender I can imagine that you've come up against the best of the very best... I reckon there are two names that probably stand out for you?

AF '' Yes, that is a very easy question for me to answer. The current two best players in the world in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. For me I think we will not have any kind of player like those two for a long time because they are both really outstanding players and it is a blessing for all of us that they play at the exact same time.  They push each other to be really the best. I think a Messi without Ronaldo would not be the same and other way around. For me personally, defending wise, it was a little bit more complicated to play against Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo fitted me a little better because of his body type, we have the same height.  

Lionel Messi has a different body type so when he moves and turns quickly it is impossible to defend against him.  And I also really liked and appreciated it when I played against Zinedine Zidane because of his great aura.  When he stepped out onto the pitch and you saw him play you are almost in awe of him and the way he plays football. I have never seen a more elegant and technically perfect player in my career, to play against those players was a tremendous honour''.

JR ''Arne, I could listen to great players talking about other great players all day.  But you can't have the great players without the great coaches can you?"

AF  ''I would say that there are two coaches for me who I would definitely mention. The first is Joachim Löw.  He is just outstanding.  I saw his development from being an assistant coach in the World Cup in 2006 to become the head coach after Klinsmann left.  He developed tremendously, especially in his ability to lead a team. Besides his coaching abilities I highly value his character traits. He is loyal and he has integrity and he is always honest. 

One example. I used to play most of the time in the starting eleven for the German national team and I remember in the Euro 2008 opener against Poland the night before the game he called me in.  He wanted to talk to me.  He told me that I am not going to play the game the next day.  He was very honest and upfront but he also explained to me why.  He said that it is just one game, so after that I had such a huge respect towards him.  I would say that he affected me in a big way during my career because I am a real people person and I think that the most important thing is to be honest and upfront with players and explain why you do things.  At the same time it is important to have some kind of empathy in order to build trust with the players. 

In the end happy and fulfilled athletes perform better, and that is something that I believe in.  The second coach I would like to mention is Lucien Favre.  When it comes to tactical skills he was just outstanding. He also saw the devil in the detail and planned even the dead ball situations profoundly.  During my time at Hertha BSC he helped me to use my left foot which I was not really aware of having, even by the age of 28 years old.  He is really detailed and a great coach".


James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.